Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Bicycle Jokers

The Bicycle Joker is among the most classic American jokers. It might be the premier American joker.  I have 60 bicycle joker variations.

Here is my personal favorite, the colored version of the classic Bicycle Joker. The Hoffman Encyclopedia of Playing Cards shows this type of image, of course in black and white, first appeared in 1905 (Page 90).

Bicycle Card Joker
Bicycle Card Joker

And then here are a sample of the many variations of these bicycle jokers. First, the blue background:

An interesting yellow coloring...

Before we leave the classic Bicycle joker section, lets do a little history.  This design dates to the origin story of jokers, the "Best Bower", an extra card required by the game of euchre.  Note the date call out at the bottom: 1885.  The Hoffman Encyclopedia of Cards (Page 90) shows this design as RMP, 1885.  (But I don't think this one is an original).

Here's another variation of the big wheeled old style bicycle but without the reference to the Best Bower or the date.  

These big wheeled bikes were developed in the 1870s because the larger front wheel made it possible to ride much faster. These bikers were known as  "Penny-farthings", a "High wheel", or a "High wheeler" and were popular for about 20 years, the 1870s and 1880s.  

My guess as to why they were called "Penny farthings" is that the British Penny coin was much much larger then the British quarter-penny coin and somehow, the visual of a big penny coin and the little farthing coin were reminiscent of the big and small wheels.  Can anyone correct or confirm?  

 When the more modern bikes with chain wheel drives were developed in the 1890s, the new ones were called "Safety bike" (since the fall wasn't from as on-high) and the big wheelers became known as  "Ordinary".

This next joker, shown front and back, is also a modern recreation made to look old of the Bicycle joker.

Thus ends the bi-cycle section and starts the unicycle section. The first unicyclist is particularly tricky.

This jester's unicycle is tiny but the tweetie bird on this finger is bigger than his head. And the bells on his hat are larger than the bird's head.

Now, some clowns on unicycles...

And a clown on a sort of unicycle. Actually, it looks like a ball. But I thought he belonged here with the others.

The last bicycle joker to be pictured is a modern design by the incomparable joker designer, Randy Butterfield.   I hope to interview him soon to get the inside scoop on the story of this design.

This is the newest and last page in the Bicycle section. It has the novelty see-through joker (picture above front and back plus the Randy Butterfield jokers (top left and top right). The center bottom is sort of a unicycle theme. I'm not entirely comfortable with classifying him in the bicycle section but he is there. For now.

Note that the bicycle section of this collection use to be the Bicycle and USPC section. USPC means the US Playing Card Company which often uses the U overlapping with the S in the top left adn bottom right corners of the card (see above).  From when the entire USPC section was together, there was a post about this joker card with the imps which I included here but it really has its own section where it was once considered the oldest joker in my collection:


Here's the info provided in a FB discussion of this joker:

Paul Bostock The design (those 'imps') looks like National Playing cards. I checked Hochman and it is Nu13 1896. At that time, National had recently been bought by USPC, hence using their letters on the Joker. 

Chris Turner National or USPC joker from the special deck for the game 500. These are originals. Look at the vertical lines in the finish of the paper stock. Newer cards (after 1960s) do not show those lines with age. 

Decks have 63 or 65 cards, depending in the variety, including 11, 12 and 13s and one joker. USPC made the 500 deck until the late 2000s. 

The Griffin back seen here is the most commonly found. Other backs included a swastika from when that symbol was considered a sign of good luck. 

Deck made in red and blue. Slip cases with gold embossing first, then later, a larger tuck box. 500 decks of all vintages are still out there at the junk stores and estate sales — and rarely are expensive. 

Finally, it is a wonderful game. The favorite at my house. Four or five players use a standard deck with one joker; six players use the 63 or 65 card deck. 

Dan Nordquist: The characters are the "Palmer Cox Brownies" who were popular cartoonish characters from the early 20th century. National playing cards created the "look" and was bought up by USPC as someone else said. If you like the look of the Brownies, there are others around besides the ones sitting in a circle. Probably the greatest would be the Schlitz beer advertising deck that has them on the Joker. There are also some Joker pics that show them about to launch a huge snowball off a roof at other cartoon characters. And a second Joker that shows the aftermath of the snowball falling on everyone below. Those are all black and white. But the really rare one is a color version of them playing billiards / pool. 

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